It all started in New York

In 1950, Spain was still emerging from the aftermath of the civil war and suffering international isolation due to its relationship with the German and Italian dictators. Dr. Josep Mª Poal and Engineer and Architect Josep Mª Bosch i Aymerich coincided in New York for professional reasons and began to admire the American lifestyle, culture and language. There they decided that it was necessary to create an institution in Barcelona to raise awareness of this culture and the American way of life in Catalonia.

When they returned to Barcelona, they got to work. They drew up the statutes and founded the Institute of North American Studies Association in 1951 with Mr. Josep Mª Pi i Sunyer as its first president. From the outset, they wanted the IEN to be a social and cultural bridge between the two nations. Its provisional headquarters were located in a lawyers’ office on the road Carrer Provença.

It is worth noting that this was a private organization founded by Catalans that had overcome countless difficulties to acquire official authorization.


From one rent to another
until they built their own headquarters

The first provisional headquarters were on the road Carrer Provença in the office of the lawyers who oversaw the legal proceedings. They moved to Via Laietana 28, to the same building as the US Consulate, a year later. The number of IEN members began to grow little by little, and the organization equipped future headquarters thanks to their donations. The increase in activities caused it to outgrow the premises and it moved again in 1956, this time to Carrer València, where there was an office and a conference room. As it continued to grow, it once more outgrew the premises, so the organization rented a second space on Passeig de Gràcia, with one being used for cultural activities and the other for English classes.

The growing success of these activities and English classes led to the decision to construct a large building on a plot on Via Augusta 123 which it inaugurated in 1961 with an official financial contribution from the US government. The building has seven floors and a basement, as well as an almost 300-seat theater and a large open-air patio.

The facade, designed by Josep Mª Bosch i Aymerich himself, is noteworthy for its originality and has not lost value over time.

The organization built an annex on Carrer Sant Eusebi in 1971, where the library is now located.


IEN — A benchmark of quality

American English has been taught at the IEN from the outset. In-person classes have always taken place with native teachers and no more than fifteen students per class. The official programs began in the 1960-61 academic year and, thanks to the large number of classrooms available in the building on Via Augusta, the Institute could offer programs specific to children, teenagers and adults from an introductory level up to proficiency (C2 level). The programs were adapted to the methodological strategies of the moment and the most modern teaching technologies were progressively incorporated.

During these 60 years, over 400,000 students took classes at the IEN and it is uncommon to find someone who does not remember their time as an English student there. The long queues that formed along the street at every registration have become famous. The American English teaching program finished in June 2019, when doors opened up to other academic activities geared toward North American studies.


Hundreds of events and all for free

The IEN offers a diverse range of cultural activities that, very quickly, greatly impacted Catalan society, especially in Barcelona. It covers all disciplines, including theater, cinema, photography, seminars, conferences, exhibitions, and book presentations.

In the transition, the political debates, which had previously been forbidden, were remarkable. The most noteworthy one was the 1976 series on “How to consolidate a democracy” with speeches by Ramón Trias Fargas, Joaquim Muns, Julián Marías and Llorenç Gomis, among others.

The organization also had a huge impact with the congress entitled: The Next Generation (2002), on the new American narrative, which featured the participation of emerging novelists.

More than 140 speakers have passed through the IEN to talk about culture, art, politics, music, literature and today’s society.

The lectures on astronautics organized by Mr. Pere Mateu Sancho, a member of the IEN and president of the Spanish Astronautics Association, also had an enormous impact.

The sessions on contemporary trends in painting and graphic design was noteworthy in the field of visual arts, featuring the visit of important artists such as Milton Glaser, creator of the famous “I LOVE NY” or the exhibition “Sightings” that presented the work of more than 20 American painters. There were also individual and collective photography exhibitions such as “Farm Security Administration” on the Deep South, and “Tamarind Impressions” (1987) that brought the work of 22 artists from one of the most prestigious lithography centers in the United States, the Tamarind Institute, to Barcelona. Furthermore, the graphic humor of The New Yorker or cartoon artists has also been present at IEN exhibitions with “The Cartoon World of Bob Clampett” (1991).

Hugely popular painting exhibitions were held, featuring American themes by Catalan artists such as Xavier Carbonell and Hernàndez Silió under the slogan “Homage to New York” and, exclusively in Spain, the exhibition with official photographs of the New York’s Ground Zero after the attack on the Twin Towers.

The IEN has also championed the knowledge of Catalan culture in the United States. We should emphasize the joint sponsorship of the exhibition “Tàpies in Print” at the MOMA in New York (1992) with the Government of Catalonia and the National Endowment for the Arts. There are also the bilingual printings of the “Beacon Literature Series”, which include English translations of works by Juan Gil-Albert, Agustí Bartra, Ràfols Casamada and Tomàs Garcés, among others, and which the organization distributed to American universities with Catalan departments.

The availability of a large-capacity hall has made it possible to carry out a wide variety of activities for the public, always with free admission. Highlights include the theatrical performances of the Gogo independent experimental theater student group, the 100+ regular jazz concerts promoted by the Jubilee Jazz Club and the Catalan Classic Jazz Foundation, and the classical music concerts under the direction of pianist Anna Mª Cardona, which included compositions by American musicians.

The IEN has been projecting films since very early on, first without any kind of introduction, then by grouping them into themed series or days that included conferences and seminars, up to offering an American film series with the University of Barcelona directed by Dr. Josep Mª Caparròs.


A permanent link
between the IEN and the city and country

From very early on, the Institute of North American Studies was strongly integrated into Catalan and Barcelona society and it held and participated in many civic activities.

In 1955, citizens began to celebrate Valentine’s Day, then unknown in Spain. The organization held a gala at the Ritz on February 14 where the belle of the ball was selected, among other festivities. During the eight years in which the organization held the gala, it constituted a major social event attended by the city’s highest authorities.

Between the late fifties and early seventies, students received support from the center to organize social and cultural activities. It is for this reason that they organized themselves into committees and held elections. Candidates stood for positions, and conducted election campaigns, debates and secret ballots. It was undoubtedly a positive experience considering the historical context in which it took place.

The student committees organized jazz and rock concerts, theater readings and plays, as well as parties, excursions and sporting activities. They filled a gap, bringing a little social life to the quiet Barcelona of the time. Among the activities organized, it is worth mentioning the various editions of the Spring Rally (a car rally with a metropolitan circuit including the cities of Sabadell and Terrassa), the University of Florida Circus at Plaça de Catalunya and the training of the Gogo independent experimental theater group which contributed to the advocacy of contemporary and classic plays by American and Spanish playwrights.

On its 35th anniversary and as a token of gratitude to the City, the IEN donated the Columnes de Terme sculpture collection by sculptor Xavier Corberó, which can now be seen at Plaça Kennedy at the end of Carrer de Balmes in Barcelona.

The recognition of the IEN’s activities came with the award of the St George’s Cross from the Government of Catalonia in 1992.


Inaugurated in 1982 by Ambassador Terence Todman, it contains more than 10,000 American books and has been a benchmark to discover American authors and publications from all areas of culture, economics, history, politics and the workings of American institutions. As a benchmark library, it has served to document different studies and reports.


Recognition of the best

Continuing with its vocation as a cultural bridge between the USA
and Catalonia, the IEN established the J.F. Kennedy Award in 1964
in memory of the great American president.

View the winners here